It’s time for another installment of bais Yaakov Halacha. This one is inspired by a story from a now modern orthodox, formerly bais Yaakov friend:
‘Story from my bais Yaakov high school: I suggest to two friends of mine to do a zimmun.
They said no.
I said it was in the Shulchan Aruch.
They told me: “We don’t just automatically do what’s written in the Shulchan Aruch; things change over time.”
I regrettably did not record them conceding the gradual evolution of Halacha for use in future arguments.’
Immediately, another modern orthodox friend retorted, “Shulchan Aruch?! It’s also in the Mishna Berura and everything in between!” You could hear, from the angst in her voice, that modox girls trying to get bais Yaakov girls to participate in a zimun is a common frustration.
It’s not that us bais Yaakov maidels don’t know we can form a mezumenes. It’s that we don’t think we’re supposed to, and moreover, we don’t think that we should.
From a very young age, we are socially only exposed to men leading a zimun.
“Well yes,” you may argue. “But how often does a group of just women sit down to eat bread together?”
Funny thing. Every single day of elementary school, our entire school picked up a shared lunch in the cafeteria, ate together with our class at long tables, after which three students would lead us all in bentching.
Nobody ever suggested that the seventh or eighth graders lead us in a mezumenes. Even our principal, who got a huge iconoclastic kick out of shocking us with little-known halachos and Torah tidbits, never thought of it.
So, zimun is a Man Thing. And every chareidi girl knows she is not to presume to Man Things. If you do that, next thing you know you’re participating in a women’s tefillah group or women’s megillah leining, and it’s a slippery slope until you’re walking around in a tallis and tefillin like some crazy Woman of Wall.
Also, it’s a status-driven ritual. Not only does the honor go to men, but it goes to a Kohen, or the most distinguished guest at the table. Chareidi women never take public honors. Which bais Yaakov girl is going to have the chutzpah to honor herself with leading the zimun?
Also, the text is obviously written for a group of men. Every woman who has ever led a zimun had struggled with the awkwardness of the very first line.
Finally, even when zimun for women is encouraged, it’s simultaneously discouraged.
Our Halacha teacher informed us all that the Mishna Berura says we should form a zimun if we have three women eating together. Then he informed us that if there was even a single man present at the meal we should not. It would be presumptuous and inappropriate for a group of girls to form a zimun in the presence of a man.
(This opinion, I should note, puts him in direct opposition to R’ Shlomo Zalman Aurbach, R’ Elyashiv, R’ Dovid Cohen, and R’ Dovid Feinstein, who are all quoted in this OU piece by Rabbi Zivotofsky as saying that not only should the women form a zimmun, but the man is obligated to answer*. This, is yet another lost opportunity for girls to see women form a mezumenes – at a Shabbos table where there are three women and fewer men. To be fair, there are others, such as R’ Moshe Shternbuch, who come down in the anti-zimun-in-the-presence-of-men camp.)
Our Halacha teacher then went on to decry the fact that girls don’t form a mezumenes these days, not realizing that he was part of the problem, not the solution.
But ultimately, it doesn’t matter. So much of Halacha has evolved based the minhagim people actually do, with apologies to what they should be doing. (Refer to quote above about Halacha evolving over time.)
So, it’s okay for modern orthodox women to follow the Mishna Berura, because they’re barely frum anyway. But Bais Yaakov girls know better.